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News
23.06.2010
Few places in the world are as remote, or as dramatic as the Kimberley coastline of Australia. Dick Eussen relates the experience of cruising this magical area of the continent.

 

Late March signals the end of the northwest monsoon, when the wet season reluctantly gives way to the onset of the dry season.
Remnant storms generally continue, sometimes into late April. So it was when I arrived at the Broome airport in mid-March, as it was being hammered by a severe evening thunderstorm with oddly pink glowing clouds. Pink dust was evident on cars in the morning.
Apparently, the storm had originated over the Hammersley Ranges earlier and picked up iron ore dust, which it dispersed over Broome hours later, hence the pink glow. Strange…
Yet this odd event was just one of many that were waiting as we travelled up the Kimberley Coast the following afternoon en route to Wyndham on the Kimberley Quest 1, at the start of a 14 day cruise.
Daylight saw us embark at Strickland Bay for a welcome swim above a waterfall and we caught some barramundi destined for the galley. Later in the day we cruised through the start of the thousand islands of the Buccaneer and Bonaparte Archipelago - an extraordinary maze of islands and rocky outcrops.
While the wet season was officially over, remnant storms built up over the Mitchell and Kimberley Plateaus most afternoons and some swept over us. The evening skies were magic as big, sunlit clouds came alive with lightning. Thunder moaned over a calm sea as we sipped wine on the deck of the ship, regaling in the spectacle of the powerful electrical storms and the distant artillery duels of the storm gods.
Our 25m luxury cruise ship dropped anchor in some of the gorges at night and when a storm swept over us the lighting and cannonade of thunder turned night into day. This was magic stuff for all of us, as we witnessed nature’s power up close and became part of it.
We explored deep gorges with the ship’s five metre tenders and saw stupendous waterfalls that mesmerized us with their sheer volume and force of water that shook and vibrated the gorge walls.
Mist often obscured the vision of the high falls close-up, and drenched us with cool welcoming spray. These seasonal storms were the highlight of the cruise, a bonus that sometimes happens.
There is much more to the Kimberley, and the anglers amongst us did themselves proud by catching succulent barramundi and mangrove jack in the fast flowing river currents, while during a stop over at Montgomery Reef, reef fish and pelagics tested the expertise of the chef.
The cuisine on the ship was five-star, fresh fish from the galley if anyone requested it (and some did every day). Fish does not get better than this.
Early in the trip, we anchored in Talbot Bay and shot the Horizontal Waterfalls in the tenders, a thrilling ride that tossed us about like rag dolls. The falls are a phenomenon caused by the rise and fall of the 11m tides that flood this coast twice a day.
The water rises faster than the narrow gorge inlets and fissures can comfortably handle when the water backs up and true waterfalls appear during king tides, though generally as rapids during normal tides.
Almost daily, we walked (or climbed) above small waterfalls where we enjoyed a swim in cool, clear flowing water. Below the falls crocodiles lurked. The saurians are a fact in the tropics, though are not as dangerous as the popular media suggests. Providing you keep out of their bathtub, they keep out of yours.
Small crocodiles sometimes came alongside the tenders, snapping at hooked barramundi. We saw several large crocs basking and swimming past, while at night they often lay in the lights of the ship.
We hiked up steep mountain slopes, and delighted in the rock art galleries of the ancient people. We saw both the mysterious Bradshaw and the modern Wandjina paintings in the galleries. In some caves, there were implements – stone tools, grinding stones, shell middens, and a burial cave where skulls and bones lay on exposed rock ledges, a remainder that people once lived along the rugged coast.
We hiked inland to where a DC 3 plane crash-landed when it ran out of fuel on a trip from Perth to Broome during World War ll. It missed Broome by some 400km before coming down. Fortunately the crew escaped injury and were rescued by people from the nearby Kalumburu airfield.
The Kimberley has a long history of settlement failures, like the forsaken cemetery on Sheep Island - a poignant reminder to those who died during an early pastoral venture in 1860.
At Careening Bay we saw where mariner and explorer, Lt. Phillip Parker King, had the name HMC Beagle 1820 carved on a boab tree, which was then eight metres in circumference. Today it is over 12m in size.
Montgomery Reef is exposed twice a day by the tides to a depth of about 20cm. The tide drains into a series of canals and channels where many tidal waterfalls are created as the water level drops. It is an unique place, the home of wading birds, patrolling sea eagles and ospreys. The reef is largely composed of soft corals. Sea turtles often miss the tide and are stranded on the reef platform until the next flood.
One of the most memorable events was in the King George River. The KQ1 cruised up the river during early afternoon under a cloudy, stormy sky. This is one of the most amazing gorge complexes in the region. The tide runs inland for about 40km before it is blocked by the King George Falls, arguable one of the most amazing cataracts in Australia.
The roaring falls were awesome - an amazing display of raw power that was enjoyed immensely as we sat on the deck enjoying the customary afternoon glass of wine and cheese. Soon thunder rumbled overhead, lighting tore the clouds apart, and when rain drenched the ship we fled indoors under its fury.
The tempest stormed all night and by morning in the light of a weak, overcast dawn, the thunder of the falls drowned out all other noise. Mist, from the raging falls, engulfed the gorge and everything was dripping wet.
It was an awesome and amazing display by Mother Nature, as tonnes of water poured over the twin falls complex into the foam-flecked water of the raging river. On the way out to sea, we saw a thousand thundering waterfalls that were cascading from the walls as the plateau drained from the night’s storm rains.
To me, one of the most memorable events was when we fished the remote Drysdale River, most of us catching barramundi almost a metre long. Mean, hard fighting fish tail walked the surface in an effort to shake the hooks off.
A session on mangrove jacks the next morning was fruitful, before we headed out past imposing cliffs into the calm waters of the Timor Sea.
We woke up moored below the Wyndham wharf one fine morning. As we disembarked, a very senior member of our party said, “Those 14 days were the most amazing and fastest days I have ever enjoyed anywhere in the world. Why would you want to go anywhere else?”

The Dry Season: What a difference is was when I returned two years later in late October, at the end of a long dry season. The seasonal storms had not started and the hot and humid days were ideal for barramundi fishing.
The Kimberley rivers die a little in the dry season, leaving only enduring pools in their wake. Only the tidal streams are flushed twice a day by a restless tide, and apart from trickling springs and gossamer cascades, no evidence remains of the monsoon floods.
Yet, the land is alive as it awaits the life-giving rains. The barramundi are gathering in shallow estuaries to breed, while bull crocodiles roar a challenge to others to stay away from the females who are busy building nests on high ground on the riverbanks.
Whales frolic close inshore. Many have given birth to babies, and others have mated for the first time. There are herds of dolphins and never-ending schools of pelagic fish, hunted by marauding birds and sharks.
Bushfires burn inland and the stunning sunsets are magnificent, while each evening the clouds on the horizon and the flickering of lighting signal that the long dry season is coming to an end and that the wet is near.
The Kimberley’s are a surprise to the first time visitor, who won’t return home without an indifferent mind about the rugged coastline and its hidden gorges. This is a true wilderness, where you are as one with nature.
Catch your own fish (or gather your own oysters), have the guide clean it and the chef prepare the catch to your choice. Life does not get better than this! You may well tire of cities and their endless restaurants, but you will never tire of the Kimberley nature. It surprises at every turn with a never ending display of magnificence, no matter what the season brings.
And, even if you do nothing but relax on the sundeck with a long cool drink and a paperback, watching the land and the sea drift past, the Kimberley coast will call you back again and again.


 
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